It was CES 2008 where I had a meeting with Hauppauge. I've been using their products in all my HTPCs for the past five years and they have been solid as a rock in every single case. When I heard that Hauppauge was coming out with a product to record high definition video through a component source, I was pretty excited. Fast forwarded a year and change later and the HD PVR is finally in for testing. The product has been available for a little while now but today we're going to take a look at how well the HD PVR does at recording HD video.
The HD PVR is an external box but made for HD recording. It supports video up to 1080i which is a little bit disappointing as I would like to have seen 1080p support here. Since it is the first generation HD recording product for Hauppauge and it was released a year ago, I can understand the 1080i limit. In any case, the rear of the HD PVR features one set of component in connections and one set of component out connections. Now the component out doesn't mean you can output video from your computer to the screen but it just serves as a pass through for video coming in from the component in connections. Say you want to record a console video. You'd connect the components to both the TV and the console so that you won't get any video lag from the HD PVR doing recording on the computer and you can play on the TV without any issues. On the front are S-Video and composite connections so if you want to record from devices that use older connections or don't need the HD resolutions you can connect it to this through there as well.
Audio can be recorded from either the S/PDIF or RCA in on the back. With SPDIF, you'll be able to record 5.1 sound with the latest drivers from Hauppauge. If you don't get 5.1 sound, that would be the first thing to check out. Like the component pass throughs, there's also an S/PDIF pass through as well for outputting sound. The two connectors have spring loaded covers to help keep the connections clean.
Physically the box is pretty light and the size isn't all too bad. Considering how many connections are needed for components, there's only about so much you do with the width of the device. The length does seem a little long though but overall I think it's OK for the size. I definitely would want a smaller box in terms of length in the future though.
Included with the package are the necessary software, a remote, component cable set, IR blaster, and audio cable set. One of the nice things about the setup is that you can use the IR blaster to control say a set top cable box to change channels with. Since it is IR, you can program a learning remote and control the channel change via the HD PVR which routes the signal to the set top box. I'm more interested in the unit as a whole working with Windows Media Center and as a standalone recorder for game consoles but it's a great option to have if you do want to record say off of a satellite or cable box. I'm also happy to see the inclusion of the necessary cables as well.
Installation of the HD PVR was pretty simple. Put the CD in, install the software, and plug the HD PVR into your computer via the included USB cable. For testing, I have the HD PVR plugged into a Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop installed with Windows 7 Release Candidate. The laptop is equipped with a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo with 2GB of ram and an ATI X1400 video card. Mind you this isn't what I would be using if I was going for a nice HTPC setup but I wanted to see how well the unit worked with a below average computer. My ideal setup would be a full desktop computer equipped with a version of Windows Media Center in either Vista of Windows 7 so that it would have the speed needed to record and display the video at the same time. Hauppauge does recommend that you have a 256MB video card but testing with my laptop showed that it is possible to use it without one. The dual core though is probably an important aspect to help with some of the processing needed.
Using the included software from Arcsoft, you'll see the preview of the video on the computer. From the left side you can select the video and audio source depending on how you have the product connected. I didn't have any problems with the Arcsoft software installed on my Windows 7 laptop as I was able to record and view recordings fine. It's not the most elegant piece of software but for an included item, it gets the job done. If you have a Blu-ray burner, you can even burn your recordings with the software onto a Blu-ray disc and enjoy HD content on your player such as a PlayStation 3.
One thing that had me stumped for a bit was connecting the HD PVR to the Xbox 360. After a successful test with my cable box, all I got was a black screen with the console. When I took the component cables out from the HD PVR and plugged it back into the TV, the picture came up fine. It took me about ten minutes but I checked the Xbox 360 setting and sure enough it was set at 1080p. Since the HD PVR can only take up to a 1080i connection, it wasn't able to detect the signal from the Xbox 360. After changing to 720p I finally was able to get sound and picture on the computer and through the pass through of the HD PVR. If you're going to connect the HD PVR to the PlayStation 3, you might want to take that into account as well and lower the resolution to fit the HD PVR specifications.
I did a few recordings from my cable box using the component outs as well as the Xbox 360. As you can see, my dual core Intel CPU held steady at around 60% CPU usage which is pretty good considering it's a laptop CPU. The several spikes you see is me opening up a screenshot capture program. My slower laptop did have some stuttering here and there during the preview but it did not affect the recording at all. While the video below from my cable box recording is compressed some through YouTube's process, I can say the picture quality is damn good in my personal opinion. Five minutes worth of 720p video equated to about 300MB of space depending on how much was happening. Multiply that into an hour show and you'll need roughly 4GB per hour of storage. This is on the default settings so the file size will vary according to the bit rate you set for the recordings. The unit also stayed relatively cool throughout the process. Some of the earlier HD PVR units suffered from overheating but the one that I received experienced no such problem with I am thankful for.
When recording, you'll have the option between these formats:
- .TS, which is a generic 'transport stream' compatible with many digital media players
- .M2TS, which is compatible with the Sony Playstation3
- .MP4, which is compatible with the XBox360
From Hauppauge's website: "The .TS and .M2TS files are AVCHD compatible, and can be used to burn Blu-ray compatible disk recordings. These files can be burned onto a standard DVD+R or DVD+RW disk for playback in a Blu-ray disk player using the included Arcsoft TME Disk Create application. Approximately 2 hours of HD TV recorded at 5Mbits/sec can be put onto a standard DVD+R or DVD+RW disk. The included TME Media Converter program may also be used to convert the .TS file to other formats compatible for playback on an iPhone and iPod." I personally use other programs to do the transcoding to other formats but I did try out the ArcSoft program was able to successfully take my test recordings into a smaller format for my Windows Mobile phone. The files were smaller and played well on my Touch Pro phone so it was good of Hauppauge to include this for those that don't have another option.
In Windows 7, I was able to play the files natively with Windows Media Player. On the laptop I used to record, full screen video played flawlessly with constant CPU usage of 80%. Sure you probably won't want to do anything else but on a modest machine like my laptop it's nice to know that any file recorded will be easily playable without slowdowns.
As a diehard Windows Media Center user, one of the things I really wanted the HD PVR for was to record high definition content from my cable company. Currently, there's no easy way to make Windows Media Center think of the HD PVR as another tuner. But, through some hacks and work arounds this can be done and done very successfully. You'll need a cable box with component outs of course and you'll also have to use the included IR blaster to change channels. Hauppauge actually has a link to DVB Link software that will let you use the HD PVR as a native tuner in one of the Microsoft Media Center editions but I would like to see Hauppauge come out with native support for Windows 7. DVBLink will set you back $30 so it's not too bad and probably worth it if you want a less hassle way to get it to work with your Vista or Windows 7 Media Center. Let's hope they do. MythTV does support HD PVR natively so you can use it with it without any problems.
Priced at around $250, the Hauppauge HD PVR comes in at a great price for the ability to record up to 1080i. While there are more expensive solutions out there, I really like the portability factor of the HD PVR and the ease of operation in the software on my end. The recordings turned out great from both my Xbox 360 and cable HD DVR. With the latest drivers allowing 5.1 audio, you can record and watch HD shows with surround sound as well as archive them. I don't know if we'll ever see a setup using HDMI or if it is possible with the restrictions placed on the technology but that would be a great next step for the next iteration of the device. I'd also like the next one to be able to record 1080p video as well but for now, I really like the HD PVR and what it has to offer. There hasn't been a Hauppauge product that I've used that's disappointed me and this is another one that I'm extremely happy with. You'll be seeing many videos of games coming from Gaming Nexus from this device as that's how happy I am with how well it performs.